Province responds to coroner’s recommendations into migrant workers’ deaths in Essex County
Crops soak up the sun at an Essex County, ON farm on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. (Ricardo Veneza / CTV Windsor)
WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs issued a statement Tuesday in response to a report by the Office of the Deputy Chief Coroner regarding the deaths of three migrant workers related to COVID-19.
Ernie Hardeman said they are carefully reviewing the recommendations in the report and the ministry will work with experts to address the coroner’s recommendations in a timely and responsive manner.
“We thank the Office of the Deputy Chief Coroner for its review of the deaths of three Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) and its report,” said Hardeman. “We are saddened by these tragedies and extend our condolences to the workers’ families, friends and co-workers.”
He said workers who come to Ontario under the federal government’s TFW program are valued members of Ontario’s agri-food sector.
The coroner’s report looked into the deaths of Bonifacio Eugenio Romero (May 30, 2020), Rogelio Munoz Santos (June 5, 2020), and Juan Lopez Chaparro (June 20, 2020), all citizens of Mexico and TFAWs exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in Ontario led to this report.
Two men, 31-year-old Romero and 24-year-old Santos both worked on Essex County farms.
“COVID-19 caused or contributed to each of the three deaths,” said the report.
Over the past year, Hardeman said they have taken important steps to protect workers in the agri-food sector, such as:
- Setting up a clinic at Toronto Pearson International Airport to make vaccines available to TFWs before they leave the airport for transportation to their quarantine location. This is in accordance with Phase Two of Ontario’s vaccine implementation plan, which includes agricultural workers as a priority group.
- Working with industry and government partners to implement the 35 actions outlined in our comprehensive Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy for COVID-19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers.
- Conducting proactive labour inspections on farms, greenhouses and other agricultural operations to ensure health and safety measures are being followed, with a specific focus on operations employing TFWs.
- Deploying rapid antigen point-of-care test kits to essential sectors, including primary agricultural production, food and beverage processing and key distribution centres.
- Committing over $35 million in funding through the Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program to provide funding for personal protective equipment, medical testing equipment, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, housing modifications and other health and safety measures. This includes the additional $10 million announced for this program in the 2021 Ontario budget, Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy.
- Working with the federal government to help ensure employers provide safe transportation and have quarantine and isolation plans for incoming workers.
- Providing specialized COVID-19 resources in a variety of languages and formats distributed to farms, greenhouses and food processing operations across Ontario.
- Providing information to help protect the health of workers and stop the spread of COVID-19, including through the COVID-19 online toolkit Ontario.ca/covidfarmertoolkit which provides information about prevention, outbreak isolation supports, health and wellness assessments, social supports and workplace rights and responsibilities.
- Removing the three-month waiting period for OHIP coverage in direct response to the COVID-19 situation. This grants TFWs who meet OHIP eligibility full access to health care through OHIP while in Ontario.
- Investing in a new $25.5 million Agri-food Prevention and Control Innovation Program to enhance workers’ safety through the adoption of innovations and technology to reduce COVID-19 transmission risks in agri-food workplaces.
- Promoting supports available through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board including interpreters to help workers file claims.
- Launching a series of health and safety webinars to provide information to farm operators and mailed health and safety information to all registered Ontario farms.